Analyzing Terror and Its Immigration Nexus

By Dan Cadman on June 28, 2016

In February 2016 the Washington Post reported the findings of a study that said "there is no real link between immigration and terror." A look at the study (behind a paywall, but you can find the abstract here and a brief précis and interview here) reveals that it is based on a very sophisticated technique called "spatial temporal regression" that is subject to significant error when misapplied by researchers who commit the sins of over-aggregation and aggregating unlike things. A classic proof of misapplication was established by Benoit Mandelbrot, in which the coastline of Britain is measured using a long yardstick, a medium yardstick, and a short yardstick, yielding different results: "it is inherently nonsensical to discuss certain spatial concepts despite an inherent presumption of the validity of the concept."

Such a misapplication would seem to be the case here: Can one really measure migration and terror attacks equally for all countries in a 30-year period? For instance, is the risk of terror in the United States or France inherently the same as it is in Finland? And is it reasonable to measure the risk of terror by sheer volume of migrant inflows, rather than by assessing their countries of origin and cultural and religious mores? Doing so puts the terror risk from migrating Pacific Islanders on the same level as migrating Somalis. To a simple naif like me, and probably most of America, this doesn't sound at all logical. But the study advances the desired narrative of progressives, and so the Post dutifully and somewhat gleefully publishes the article while managing to take some sideswipes at others who aren't so perceptive as to recognize that of course there is no link between immigration and terror. What it doesn't do is discuss the possibility that this study falls into the same foolish realm as measuring British coasts on a map by means of yardstick.

In June 2016, responding to a Donald Trump statement to the effect that hundreds of migrants and their children have been implicated in U.S. terrorism, Politifact writer Lauren Carroll penned an article begrudgingly acknowledging that "Of the jihadist group [of terrorists identified as acting in the United States by the New America Foundation] — the one most pertinent to Trump — at least 139 of the documented individuals were born outside the United States and then migrated there. The rest were either born in the United States, or their immigration status is unknown. ... So definitely more than 140 people accused of jihad-inspired terrorism fit Trump's bill, as 'migrants and their children.' But it's unclear if the actual number is high enough to be 'hundreds.' "

She then goes on to equivocate away the significance of the numbers:

  • "'It's really misleading to portray the terrorist threat inside the U.S. as primarily foreign, when in fact it's primarily domestic, inspired by foreign terrorist organizations,' according to David Sterman of the New America Foundation."
  • "William Banks, director of Syracuse University's Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism, said it's important to note that the number of violent jihadist terrorism attacks is tiny compared to other violent acts in the United States. The New America Foundation database counts 10 lethal jihadist attacks on American soil since 9/11."
  • "[W]hen Trump talks about 'migrants and their children,' he's talking about a sizeable share of the country's population. About 76 million people in the United States — about a quarter of the total population — are either immigrants or children of immigrants as of 2013, according to the Pew Research Center."

Apparently, because Politifact couldn't pin Trump with a "Pinocchio" or "Pants on Fire" or whatever is their designation-du-jour for lies, they decided to try to dilute the fundamental truth of his statement. Considering these items serially, they are themselves irrelevant and misleading.

  • First, to suggest that the jihadist threat to the United States is domestic is an egregious distortion. Immigrants and their unassimilated children, when devotees of Salafist Islamic philosophy, represent a real and present danger to the United States — and they are one we have imported into the country via our immigration policies; they are unambiguously not home-grown in any real sense of the word, unless one admits that we have permitted Salafism to grow unchecked on our soil.
  • Second, to focus only on the lethal jihadist attacks is to dismiss the innumerable instances in which authorities have swooped in fortuitously, at the last moment, to preclude the attack: bombings in the Lincoln Tunnel, Times Square, Los Angeles International Airport, etc., etc. Such a dismissive approach is foolhardy, because it presumes the authorities will always and forever be able to thwart such attacks, in the face of evidence totally to the contrary, and despite repeated warnings from our law enforcement and intelligence leaders that so many individuals are now under surveillance that it is straining their resources beyond capacity. One also wonders how the maimed victims, and surviving relatives of those murdered, react to Syracuse University's casual dismissal of their pain and grief.
  • Third, the reference to migrants and their children, in toto, is as irrelevant and misplaced as the "study" that found "no link" between migration and terror. Only a fool considers such a context. In fact, the larger the number of migrants, the bigger the haystack in which the needles can hide. And we have plenty of proof that the U.S. government cannot meaningfully vet future terrorists out of those whom they have given a pass to enter the United States, whether as refugees and asylees such as the Boston bombers, or as fiancées, such as one of the San Bernardino shooters, or as students and visitors, such as the original 9/11 terrorists, or as resident aliens, such as some of the others wrapped up in the authorities' ongoing efforts to net terrorists before they can act.

Finally, let us consider the appalling fact that in casting about for numbers with which to ping against in testing Trump's assertion, Politifact had to go to innumerable sources (including CIS, which did not attempt to provide them) before settling on the New America Foundation. This is because neither the Department of Justice (DOJ) nor the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can tell us something as fundamental as how many immigrants or children of immigrants have been arrested for terror-related offenses.

Is such information not basic in any effort to make intelligent judgments about how to curb the terrorist threat, or how to make better decisions in adjudicating immigration benefits? But of course, the lack of statistics is of a piece with the stupid decision to attempt to edit out the 911 tapes of Omar Mateen's declaration of allegiance to ISIS, and the attorney general's eyebrow-raising post-massacre news conference pronouncement that, given time, love will conquer all this evil.

We have evidence in many quarters that this administration has gone out of its way to create a Potemkin bubble in which to operate, full of truthiness, but devoid of truth. To name just three instances, witness Obamacare adviser Jonathan Gruber admitting that the "stupid" American people were sold a bill of goods to ensure that there was public support for the plan; National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes' bragging interview with the New York Times; and the State Department's selective editing of a press briefing in which the press officer admits to a Fox News reporter that the government has lied to the American people about secret talks with Iran.

One way to create the desired narrative, particularly where immigration policies are concerned, is to ensure that meaningful statistics are buried. This most particularly includes those involving immigrants and crime, or immigrants and terror.

The closest we can come to any real, meaningful figures about the nexus between immigration and terror are those that have been provided to us thanks to the work of Sens. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and a few dedicated staffers, who compiled a substantial amount of information despite being stiffed by DHS in their efforts to obtain files and data. According to the report that they released, of the 580 convicted, at least 380 were foreign-born — more than twice the figure quoted by Politifact — and the actual number cited might have been significantly higher if congressional investigators had been able to obtain the data they requested from DHS on places of birth and entry to the United States.

Note also that the 580 only represents the pool of convictions they were able to amalgamate from various sources — it may not be complete and doesn't include the significant number of those individuals charged and still awaiting trial, such as the teenager arrested in Indiana for attempting to join ISIS, or the Iraqi refugee arrested in Texas for repeatedly hiding information about his terrorism connections in his refugee, resident alien, and naturalization applications.

In sum, there is ample information showing a link between terror and immigration in the United States (which common-sense tells us to accept as a given), and almost certainly a growing and dangerous problem with assimilation of immigrants and their children — notwithstanding the Obama administration's fumble-fisted attempts to drop the cone of silence over the subject.